Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar said an executive order signed yesterday by US President Joe Biden, which requires everyone traveling to the United States to quarantine upon arrival, will likely be devastating for tourism in The Bahamas.
“Obviously, these requirements are significantly impactful on travel,” D’Aguilar said.
“…Given the fact that we hardly get any [tourists] from Europe and given the fact that Canada is virtually shut down, probably well in excess of 90 percent of our foreign travelers are coming from the United States.
“The fact that they now have to fulfill our requirements to come here and these requirements by the CDC to return home, inclusive of quarantine, is significantly impactful, almost devastating.
“It’s going to be that much more difficult to convince persons to travel to The Bahamas.”
The order comes less than three months after the Bahamian government eased entry protocols to encourage tourist arrivals. Some major resorts, which had been shuttered since March 2020, reopened only last month.
The executive order was one of many signed by the new president yesterday in an effort to get a handle on the spread of COVID-19 in the United Sates where thousands of people are dying each day from the virus.
“It is the policy of my administration that, to the extent feasible, travelers seeking to enter the United States from a foreign country shall be: required to produce proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test prior to entry; and required to comply with other applicable [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] CDC guidelines concerning international travel, including recommended periods of self quarantine or self isolation after entry into the United States,” the order reads.
The CDC also recommends people who “engage in high-risk activities” during international travel get tested three to five days after travel and stay home for seven days after travel, even if the test is negative.
It is also recommended that travelers stay away from high-risk family members for 14 days after travel.
D’Aguilar said an exemption from the requirement is the only hope for The Bahamas’ tourism industry.
“We implore our neighbor to the north to consider the English-speaking Caribbean countries differently, for a number of reasons,” he said.
“First and foremost, we have very small populations. Secondly, by and large, we have very, very small amounts of community spread. As a result, we present very little risk to the United States.
“And given the fact that we are in their sphere of influence, and our economies, by and large, are incredibly dependent on tourism from the United States, we’re asking for special consideration.”
Last week, the CDC issued an order, effective January 26, requiring all air passengers arriving in the United States from a foreign country to get tested for COVID-19 no more than three days before traveling.
D’Aguilar said then that he was lobbying for an exemption from that requirement, but noted that “plan B” was to ramp up rapid antigen testing to make sure the requirement could be easily met for travelers throughout The Bahamas.
However, he said yesterday that there is no longer any other option.
“There is none,” he said.
“That is the hurtful part of this.
“If persons feel that they’re required to go home and quarantine…this is a significant impediment to travel.”
Industry stakeholders, meanwhile, are trying to assess the likely impact of the new order.
Robert Sands, president of the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association stated: “We are reviewing the executive order and ancillary documentation in detail and are engaged in discussions with relevant government representatives, regional partners and tourism stakeholders.
“We will work immediately and assiduously with all relevant entities to clarify the specifications contained in the executive order and the subsequent potential ramifications on tourism for The Bahamas, and the region. We will continue to communicate with you, our industry partners and members”.